Ukrainian ex-minister: ‘Our judges are independent from the law’

Petro Poroshenko will meet Vladimir Putin Tuesday, 26 August, in Minsk.

Petro Poroshenko, a former top government minister and an influential businessman, said yesterday (7 March) he regretted the “selective justice” that led to an opposition lawmaker to lose his parliamentary seat.

Poroshenko, also known as the “chocolate king” for his holdings in the confectionery industry, held talks in Brussels with Štefan Füle, the EU's enlargement commissioner, European External Action Service officials and several MEPs.

The court decisions were not influenced by political authorities, said Poroshenko, who was recently elected to the Ukrainian Parliament as an independent candidate.

On 6 March a court stripped Serhiy Vlasenko, a member of opposition movement Batkivshchyna of his seat in parliament. Batkivshchyna is the party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is serving a prison sentence for abuse of office.

The decision followed a motion from an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The motion had accused Vlasenko of working as a lawyer, a practice that deputies are barred from, Batkivshchyna said in a statement. Vlasenko, best known for advising Tymoshenko's defence team, has denied any wrongdoing.

Füle condemned the ruling, saying on his Twitter feed: "Stripping a parliamentarian of his mandate like being done in case of Vlasenko is not European way. Does this bring Ukraine closer to EU?"

The United States and the Council of Europe also condemned the decision.

Two other members of Ukraine’s parliament, Pavel Baloga and Alexander Dombrovski, were also stripped of their seats.

Poroshenko said the court decisions appeared to violate the constitution.

“I think this is a very negative example how bad service can be done by Ukrainian courts to the process of European integration of Ukraine,” he said.

Still, Poroshenko argued that Europe should keep the door open for Ukraine, saying the signing of an Association Agreement would mark “the beginning of changes” and “an opportunity to bring European values and standards in Ukraine”.

Maintaining strong ties with EU

“In the meetings with my colleagues, we agreed that for the European door for the Association of Ukraine, we need two keys, like in a bank. One key is in the hand of Ukraine, second key in the hands of Brussels. Ukraine must start the first turn, the second turn will be from Brussels,” he told journalists after meeting with the EU officials.

According to diplomatic sources, what could be expected in such a short timeframe is the liberation of Yuri Lutsenko, a former Interior Minister and ally of Tymoshenko, who had suffered health problems in prison.

EURACTIV asked Poroshenko Brussels could rely on the independence of the Ukrainian courts.

“My idea is that our judges are independent from the law,” Poroshenko said. He said that the Ukrainian authorities agreed with Brussels that actions against the three Ukrainian lawmakers was “selective justice”.

“I as a politician, I as a member of Parliament, I as former minister of foreign affairs, I think this is a very harmful decision that has nothing to do with the law."

Poproshenko did not comment on the possible motivation of the judges, but Ukrainian sources told EURACTIV that magistrates in the country were waging their own private wars, beyond the control of the political class.

Another message of Poroshenko was that the most crucial month for Ukraine’s EU integration process is this April. He explained that technically, there was little time left to the EU decision-making process to be able to endorse the signing of the Association Agreement in November, during the Lithuanian presidency of the EU. 

Poroshenko said he had invested a lot of time in drafting the 906-page document.

One of the episodes of the negotiation of the Association Agreement has been finding a solution on the taxing of the powerful Ukrainian confectionery industry, where Poroshenko holds important stakes.

MEP Pawe? Kowal, chairman of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU - Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said of the decision to deny Serhiy Vlasenko a parliamentary seat:

"I am deeply concerned about the annulment of Serhiy Vlasenko's parliamentary mandate and recent legal proceedings leading to the possible revokation of other parliamentary seats from Mr Pavel Baloga and Mr Alexander Dombrovski, who were elected in the Verkhovna Rada elections of October 2012. This situation, once again, raises concerns about the selective use of justice in Ukraine.

"As the Head of the European Parliament's election observation mission during the parliamentary elections in Ukraine in 2012, I should like to recall that the final report of the EP election observation mission, as well as the final report of the OSCE / ODIHR, drew attention to a number of irregularities during the electoral process.

"The Ukrainian side committed itself to carrying out the appropriate reforms to address these irregularities, as part of their compliance with the conditions for signing the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. "I am therefore urging the authorities of Ukraine to make the necessary improvements to the electoral system and to ensure that all those who have been duly elected in October 2012 should be enabled to take up their seats and to fulfill their mandate in the Parliament. Proper implementation of these steps is an essential condition to demonstrate the credibility of the electoral process in Ukraine and the willingness to share European values."

At its recent EU-Ukraine summit on 25 February, Council President Herman Van Rompuy reiterated the three areas where the EU wants to see progress before signing an Association Agreement with Kyiv.

The three conditions are to address the problem of "selective justice" - a reference to the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko -, dealing with the democratic shortcomings stemming from the October national elections, and advancing judiciary reforms.

Van Rompuy made it plain that the EU wanted to see progress “at the latest May this year”.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said the outstanding issues could be solved in time for the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November, during the Lithuanian presidency of the EU.

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